12 Winters Blog

Men of Winter Redux

Posted in August 2013, Uncategorized by Ted Morrissey on August 11, 2013

My novel Men of Winter originally appeared in 2010, brought out by a new press, but I was never very happy with the end result, and overall my experience with the press was pretty frustrating.  Not surprisingly, the press went out of business last year, leaving my book “out of print,” at least in paperback (the digital versions represent a different tale of woe).  Because of this event, combined with the extreme difficulty of getting challenging work in print, period, I decided to start my own publishing business, Twelve Winters Press, which I founded in 2012.

Men of Winter Front Cover

Twelve Winters Press’s first order of business was to make Men of Winter available again (for one thing, I wanted to use myself as a guinea pig, before approaching others about publishing their work).  However, as long as I was troubling to bring it out again, I decided to release a revised and expanded edition of the novel.  New to this edition are a Preface (written by me), an interview by Beth Gilstrap (an abbreviated version of which originally appeared in Fourth River), an Afterword by Adam Nicholson, and discussion questions designed to make the book better suited for book clubs and classrooms.  In terms of revisions, I’ve made a few wording changes and corrections here and there, but the most obvious revision is the addition of epigraphs at the head of each chapter from either the Iliad or the Odyssey.  For the cover art, Gina Glover generously allowed me to use her pin-hole photograph, Amandine, Usedom, Germany.

Men of Winter, A Revised & Expanded Edition, is currently available from Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and Espresso Book Machine.  It will soon be available from Baker & Taylor, Ingram, and NACSCORP.  Please note that the Kindle and Nook editions are the 2010 version of the novel, of which I haven’t received a royalty payment in more than two years (folks are making money off the book, but I’m not among them).  I’m currently in communication with Amazon and Barnes & Noble regarding the situation and plan to have new digital versions available in the near future.

I’m working on getting my newest novel, An Untimely Frost, ready for publication, projected release this fall.  Meanwhile, I have the good fortune of my talented and enthusiastic Quiddity colleague John McCarthy coming on board as a contributing editor, and John is going to spearhead some special projects so that Twelve Winters is not simply my own self-publishing venture.

Twelve Winters Logo Maximum

Many of you reading this blog, may have read Men of Winter in its earlier incarnation, and I would encourage you to spread the word regarding its re-release.  And if you haven’t read the book … well, your support would be greatly appreciated.  I’m hoping especially to market the novel to book clubs, with whose members I would be honored to join in conversation either in person or via Skype.  So if you have any book-club connections (or aspirations), again, I’d greatly appreciate your spreading the word.

Please visit tedmorrissey.com.

Ulysses, the Odyssey, and Suskind’s Perfume

Posted in July 2010 by Ted Morrissey on July 7, 2010

I’ve been meaning to add a blog post for a while, but I’ve discovered my summertime routine doesn’t lend itself to blogging. I’ve been writing quite a bit each morning on my novel in progress, and by the time I reach a point where I might blog, I’m about written out. I hear of creative writers who hammer away on a novel, etc., for hours and hours at a time, but I find that a couple of hours per day is plenty. Still, I’m making much steadier progress than I did during the academic year, where I was limited to writing twenty to thirty minutes a morning, Monday through Friday. I spent most of June editing and revising what I had written of the manuscript, so it’s only been the last couple of weeks that I’ve been moving steadily forward with the plot. There are faint traces of the end of the novel in the air, but I’m trying to resist the scent so that I don’t rush through the end of the book. I’ve resigned myself to not finishing until perhaps next summer in hopes that I’ll have the patience to fully develop the concluding sections.

On the reading front, I completed a couple sections of Ulysses, specifically the “Nausicaa” and “Oxen of the Sun” sections. I must confess that I’ve been reading some notes along with actually reading the novel (especially SparkNotes), and I’ve found them most useful. However, a reference in the “Nausicaa” analysis underscored for me what I’ve found to be a regular, well, shortcoming with many people’s approach to reading Joyce’s novel. I’ve noticed that some academics and/or just plain Ulysses enthusiasts have only a vague knowledge of Homer’s Odyssey — in fact, I’ve run into more than one Joycean who says he’s never read the Odyssey. To return to the case in point, the SparkNotes writer says that in the Odyssey, Nausicaa “discovers Odysseus asleep on the beach” (p. 63), which, strictly speaking, isn’t an accurate way to describe the action of the poem. In Book VI, Nausicaa and her servant girls, at Athena’s divine urging, have come to the river to do the washing, and their youthful frolicking awakens Odysseus, who has been asleep in the foliage. Hearing them, Odysseus reveals himself to the young women (well, not totally, thanks to a sprig of leaves he modestly holds in front of himself). Hence to say that the princess discovers Odysseus asleep on the beach is not quite right — it’s more that Odysseus discovers the young women on the beach. I know some may see it as a picayunish point — and the description of their meeting may be more the result of editorial compression than the SparkNotes writer’s lack of intimacy with Homer’s story — but it does seem to suggest someone is more familiar with Ulysses than with the Odyssey. I would think that if someone is going to devote him- or herself to developing a profound understanding of Ulysses, then one of the first orders of business would be to develop at least a solid understanding of the Odyssey.

Taking a breather from Joyce (ha — you’ll see), I’ve been reading Patrick Süskind’s novel Perfume (translated from the German by John E. Woods), and it’s very, very good. Besides the author’s virtuoso treatment of describing smells (something most creative writers don’t do very much of under normal narrative circumstances), I’ve also appreciated his representation of eighteenth-century France, especially Paris.

In addition to working on the Authoress, I’ve been continuing to circulate “Melvill in the Marquesas” (rejections are starting to trickle in), and I discovered my short story “The Composure of Death,” which, frankly, I had all but forgotten. However, I cleaned it up a bit and began sending it out as well.


Ulysses, African-American Authors, et al.

Posted in May 2010 by Ted Morrissey on May 16, 2010

I continue to make my way through Ulysses.  This morning I finished reading episode nine, “Scylla and Charybdis.”  It was especially meaningful to me for several reasons.  It’s a highly literary episode, as the characters, especially Stephen Dedalus and the poet A. E., discuss Shakespeare and, in particular, their various theories about Hamlet (and Hamlet and king Hamlet).  Before reading Ulysses, I had not seen the parallels between Homer’s Odyssey — a text that I’ve taught for years — and Hamlet, a text that I’ve taught but it’s been awhile. Both, for instance, are very much concerned with the absent father (Odysseus and king Hamlet), and in both the returned father spurs them to violence against intruders to their home (the suitors and Claudius).  The bipolarity of faithful Penelope versus faithless Gertrude is interesting, too.

Perhaps the most intriguing notion to come out of my reading of episode nine, however, is the idea that Joyce was exploring the dichotomy between Aristotle’s rationalism (represented by the cliff-dwelling Scylla) and Plato’s more organic idealism (the maelstrom Charybdis).  I’ve been teaching and studying the Odyssey for years, but I’ve never thought of Odysseus as having to navigate between these philosophical poles — and the dangers associated with sailing too closely to one or the other.  We can see this metaphor played out in our everyday lives.  In education, for example, it seems that the Aristotelean has run amok with an overemphasis on standardized testing (crystallized in the politically named “No Child Left Behind” legislation) to the detriment of the more flexible and organic pedagogies, associated in this paradigm with the Platonic.  That is, President Bush and the architects of NCLB wanted to treat students as if they were software that could be tweaked into superior performance — and dismissing the complexly organic nature of complex human organisms.  Standardized testing has its place in education, but we mustn’t sail too closely to the rocks; a more moderate course is needed.

I’ve also been (re-)reading some slave narratives as I’m currently teaching one of my favorite courses at the college, Introduction to African-American Authors.  I’ve taught it several times over the last four or five years, but I overhauled the syllabus, placing greater emphasis on the early slave narratives (Equiano, Prince, Douglass, and Jacobs), and also on the Harlem Renaissance.  Regarding the latter, this new emphasis has allowed the poetry of Countee Cullen and Langston Hughes into the reading list, as well as the novella The Blacker the Berry (1929) by Wallace Thurman.  For the conclusion of the course, I’ve also switched out Toni Morrison’s Beloved (1987) for The Bluest Eye (1970).  Of course, in revamping the syllabus the age-old problem has manifested itself:  for everything the syllabus giveth, it must taketh something else away.  In this case, I’ve lost some writers like Zora Neale Hurston and Alice Walker (and Walker’s concept of “womanism” as opposed to feminism).  These are great losses to be sure.  I’ll have to evaluate this incarnation of the course once we finish in mid-June.

I continue to work on The Authoress and am very pleased with how it’s taking shape.  I have a more solid sense of the ending, but it remains many, many words away, and I’m deliberately avoiding marrying myself to the ending as I envision it now — I want the narrative to have the autonomy to assert its own wishes and needs as we go along.  The fine folks at Punkin House Press are getting things in order.  I still haven’t been contacted by an editor there regarding Men of Winter, but it will no doubt happen soon.  Their plate is mighty full, to put it mildly.  Speaking of autonomy, PHP’s philosophy is to let writers have their own space to create and to promote themselves.  On the one hand, I very much appreciate this noble philosophy, but, on the other, some writers could probably use a bit more guidance when it comes to presenting themselves to the world.  I can offer no citation, but I’ve heard that when Stephen Crane (The Red Badge of Courage, “The Open Boat”) would send his work to his publisher, the junior editors would draw straws to see who had to edit his writing, which was filled with misspellings and ungrammatical musings.  Creativity — even if a sort of genius creativity — does not necessarily make one a master of the English language, which is why the gods invented editors.

And speaking of unmasterful endeavors, I continue to tinker with tedmorrissey.com — but there probably isn’t a lot more to do until Men of Winter gets closer to an actual release date.